December 25, 2007

Michael Beasley: Paying the Price

Picture this: While millions of people across the nation will be sitting around loved ones in warm living rooms, somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, Michael Beasley will be shooting baskets on Christmas Day. He will try to find somebody to open a gym. If that doesn't work out, the nation's hottest freshman will bundle-up and find a playground. In Beasley's schedule, there are no holidays.



"This is a full-time commitment," he said. "It's not about a part-time job."



While some folks will be taking their second trip to the fridge for eggnog, Beasley will be headed out for seconds as well. Not one, but two practices on Christmas Day. People wonder what it takes to be No. 1. Maybe this is it. Three or four hundred jump shots. Six to eight hundred jumpers in all. Ball handling. One-on-one footwork.



Are you serious?



He replies, "It doesn't stop."



This isn't a story about a Christmas wish. It's more than that. All of the time, kids wish they could be something -- a fireman, a doctor, a fighter pilot. All Beasley wanted to be is a basketball player. And not only a basketball player, but the best basketball player out there. (As if he's ever hit a court envisioning being the second-best out there.) Sure, he still has dreams of dunking on Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. But unless his 45-year-old Airness comes out of retirement another time, that dream won't come true. But Beasley has these gifts and so he works on developing those every day and just keeps on giving and giving, putting in his time and living out his dream.



And that encompasses practicing on Christmas Day.



"It's who he is," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "He cares. Mike works."



And one day after taking down his stocking, 18-year-old Michael Beasley will fly (by plane, not literally) back to Manhattan to join his Kansas State teammates and practice at Bramlage Coliseum, where he scorched Winston-Salem State for 40 points and 15 rebounds in just 23 minutes five nights before.



Yes, everybody has a wish. Somewhere on Christmas Day, Jamal Durham will probably sit and still wish he wouldn't have been that guy Saturday night. All Durham, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound junior reserve forward for Winston-Salem State, did was commit a no-no. A big no-no. Ever seen the Incredible Hulk in Nikes? Durham did. And so did Winston-Salem State, a sparse crowd of 4,495 that was able to navigate the slick roads to reach the arena, and a television audience on Fox Sports Midwest.



As the story goes, the teams headed to the locker room with K-State leading 39-31 at the half. Durham, who blocked a Beasley shot, saw the 6-foot-10, 235-pound superstar hit just three baskets and score 12 points. So as the teams headed off the court, Durham apparently wondered aloud, "Beasley who?"



Beasley, recalling the tale after the game, admitted, "That kind of upset me."



"Number 21 (Durham) said it," Martin said. "And we told (Beasley) that at halftime. I hope that question was answered."



Beasley said he didn't speak to Durham as the teams shook hands after the Wildcats' 42-point victory, which improved their record to 8-3 with three non-conference games remaining.



"I was coughing as he went past," Beasley said. "I didn't really want to showboat. I didn't want to say anything to hurt his feeling because I think the loss hurt his feelings pretty bad. I didn't really want to put any sugar on top."



Instead, Beasley just left a big lump of coal in the pit of Durham's tummy along the way to tying Mike Evans for the eighth-most points in school history and scoring the most points by a Wildcat since Askia Jones put 62 on Fresno State on March 24, 1994.



"When I was growing up, Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett, they would run the ball and people would say, 'They don't run hard,'" Martin said. "Well, heck, no one ever caught them. Mike is like that as a basketball player. There aren't too many better than him, regardless of how emotional he gets on the court. Now, when you challenge him and it's a guy with a different jersey, he gets (ticked)."



Eleven games into this season, it could be argued Beasley is in the lead. With the rest of the nation in pursuit.



Consider so far this season, only five other Division I players have reached 40 points in a game. Three of them scored more than Beasley. Nobody has touched the nation-leading 24 rebounds Beasley grabbed to go along with 32 points in a 94-63 pasting of Sacramento State on Nov. 9. And nobody else in the nation ranks in the top five in both scoring and rebounding (Beasley is fifth with 26.3 points and leads all of Division I with 14.0 rebounds). Only two others average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per outing -- High Point's Arizona Reid (24.0 ppg and 10.5 rpg) and Campbell's Jonathan Rodriguez (22.1 and 11.4).



California's Ryan Anderson (22.8 pts and 9.8 reb) and preseason first-team All-American Tyler Hansbrough (21.7 and 9.7) barely miss the cut.



"Somebody was making a bid deal about Tyler Hansbrough (on Wednesday) having his fifth consecutive double-double," Martin said earlier in the week. "Mike has had 10 consecutive double-doubles."



Now it stands at 11.



Beasley joins Nebraska's Aleks Maric (preseason All-Big 12 selection) as the only players in the league to rank in the top five in scoring, rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks. One difference in the players' games? Beasley has made 11 3-pointers and is shooting an impressive 40 percent from behind the arc. Maric, an inch taller than Beasley, has missed both of his 3-point attempts. Beasley averages five more points than anyone else in the Big 12. He averages four more rebounds than anyone else in the league, as well.



"He's a great kid," said Martin, who besides Beasley is led by two other freshmen in forward Bill Walker (12.6 pts) and point guard Jacob Pullen (11.4). "I'm happy that (Beasley) succeeds because he makes our team succeed, but I'm more happy because he's such a great kid. When you coach kids who are sincerely interested in winning, as a coach you enjoy seeing them have success. He's talented. Anybody who tells you differently would be a fool.

"People might have laughed at me when early in the year I was trying to say how good he is. He's a good player. He is who he is and he takes pride in who he is. I've said it the whole time, he's as good as anybody I've ever been around at the age of 18."






















BEASLEY BY THE HALF




1st


2nd


tot


Sac St.


16


16


32


Pitt St.


12


18


30


W. Ill.


5


23


28


G. Mason


6


24


30


UCF


15


15


30


Rider


7


6


13


Oregon


10


14


24


N. Dame


15


4


19


Cal


7


12


19


Fla. A&M


11


13


24


W-Salem St.


12


28


40






















Put it this way: Beasley averages 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in the second half. Only four players in the Big 12 - Texas' D.J. Augustin (19.9) and A.J. Abrams (18.5), Oklahoma State's James Anderson (17.4) and Maric (16.6) - average more points for the entire game. After scoring 23 of his game-high 28 points in the second half against Western Illinois, Beasley scored 18 of the Wildcats' first 23 points in the second half against George Mason on Nov. 22. He's shooting better than 65 percent from the floor, including 7-for-14 on 3-pointers in the second half. He has 11 of his team-leading 22 blocks coming out of the break, as well.



Even Beasley, who leads the team in both minutes (30.7) and field-goal percentage (57.1), ponders the havoc he could cause if he erupted in equally-devastating fashion from the opening tip.



"That's something that's one of my biggest weaknesses - starting the game," he said. "People jump on me all the time about it. That's something I have to pull from within."



Still, ask around. It's difficult to find many experts that will argue that the Washington, D.C. native who arrived as the No. 1-rated high school prospect by Rivals.com, isn't considered among the top handful of players in Division I. Although Beasley contends his focus remains solely on helping to put K-State back on the college basketball map, already he is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft -- one spot better than where close friend and Seattle SuperSonic star rookie Kevin Durant was taken a year ago.



Winston-Salem State coach Bobby Collins is sold.



"(Beasley) is strong, he's athletic, he's agile," he said. "It seems he's beyond his basketball years. He just can't be stopped. I told him I look forward to seeing him at the next level.



"I hated to be on this end tonight, but it was almost kind of enjoyable to watch how he does it. I've seen him do it on TV and I just didn't understand how he was getting those 30 points and 20 rebounds every night. Now I do. You sure he's 18?"



Yep. He's 18. And already with a ridiculous five 30-point performances, he needs only two more to pass Mitch Richmond and three to pass Bob Boozer and Norris Coleman for the most 30-point games -- in a K-State career.



Here's about the only thing you need to know about Beasley: Late Saturday night, after Beasley answered an opponent's call by scoring an astounding 24 of K-State's first 28 points through the first 8 minutes, 5 seconds of the second half, including an unconscious 16 straight points that he punctuated with a trio of 3-pointers, somebody asked Beasley if he was in the zone.



"No, we were in a man," he deadpanned.



The laughter eventually subsided.



"Just going with the wind," he said. "Luckily for me, the wind blew me into a special place."






"Just going with the wind. Luckily for me, the wind blew me into a special place."

-- Michael Beasley





He'll soon land in an unfamiliar spot for K-State athletes, as he will be the focus of an in-depth feature in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated. Already the object of photo shoots by two of the big three -- ESPN the Magazine and The Sporting News -- prior to the season, a SI writer attended Beasley's news conference in Kansas City (his first availability to the media this season) on Dec. 16, one night before he had 24 points and 10 rebounds against Florida A&M at the Sprint Center. Friday morning, the magazine returned to photograph the Skittles-eating, Spongebob-loving star, who is known to his mother as "Lil' Mike."



"Just got to get everything Beasley does," the SI photographer said Saturday as he taped one of many remote-control cameras to press row prior to tip-off.



In this media-frenzied sports world, there will assuredly be more of Beasley on the way. Not to be outdone, an ESPN film crew was on hand during Thursday's practice to tape a segment.



As Martin put it after Winston-Salem State, "(Beasley) went out there and put on a show," which was an interesting choice of words given Beasley's apparent distaste over one suggestion during his initial news conference that this season was "The Michael Beasley Show."



Someone asked Beasley if his effort against Winston-Salem State was more special than his electrifying debut against Sacramento State.



"The first game we won, right?" Beasley said. "No. I told you points don't matter as long as we win."



Yet Beasley continues to work to make his wish come true. He won't say it, but he simply won't allow himself to be the second-best player anywhere. He keeps pushing his individual goals higher and higher, striving for the next something that's out there.



For instance, Beasley, who once scored 50 points in a high school all-star game, said he had never canned three 3-pointers in a row before Saturday night.



"I was shooting like Kevin Durant," Beasley said. "You see those? Those were hot coming off screens. The third one, I didn't think was going in. I'd never shot three 3s straight before. That felt good. That felt really good."



Secondly, he filled in point guard Clent Stewart on some big news at halftime.



"One thing he told me at halftime was, 'I'm going to get 30 this half,'" Stewart recalled. "I looked at him and said, 'OK.' He'd gotten 30 in a couple games, but not all in one half. He said, 'I'm going to get 30 this half - watch.' He went out there and was motivated. Anytime you say anything to motivate him, man, if you're on the opposite team, you don't want to do that, because he can score at will.



"He went out there and started making shots and doing what he does."



Beasley fell two points short of his goal. Not that he left any room for complaint. He scored 28 points in 12 minutes of action in the second half. He went 11-for-14 from the floor, made all three of his 3-pointers and grabbed nine rebounds. Yes, all of this during his 12 minutes on the floor.



"I don't think I've been in a zone yet," Beasley said. "I'm hoping to get there. It's like the 10th floor. I think I've reached the sixth, maybe. I mean, I took over the game?"



He looked at Stewart, who nodded, "Um-hum."



"I wasn't in the zone, though," Beasley continued. "I was just taking open shots and playing as a team. I don't think I took any ill-advised shots. I passed the ball. I got a couple assists. We're just playing as a team."



But it will likely be the No. 30 jersey that several wide-eyed K-State fans of all ages pull from mutilated wrapping paper on Christmas Day and the guy in the No. 30 jersey that will continue to have his name screamed differently than all the rest at Bramlage and the guy in the No. 30 jersey that will continue to be the focus of draft projections and individual analysis and awards through March.



Ten home games remain. And Beasley plans to keep giving and giving and helping his young team through the arduous Big 12 schedule with hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament that has eluded the Wildcats since 1996.



On Saturday, though, Beasley revealed that he had already received his best Christmas present this year, as best friend and Duke freshman guard Nolan Smith surprised him earlier in the day. The stars from Oak Hill (Va.) Academy were reunited when Smith phoned Beasley and informed him he was waiting for him outside his dorm building on the K-State campus.



"That was a Christmas present," Beasley said. "That was a big surprise. That was probably the best surprise I've had. Me and Nolan go far back. I love him like a brother and for him to come straight from New York - they played in the Garden the other night - to watch me meant a lot to me."



Smith, one of the elite newcomers that entered the season among a large pool of freshmen talents, continues to find his way. After all, there's only one Beasley. Case in point: After Smith lit-up Cameron Indoor Stadium with a season-high 17 points in a 28-point rout of Michigan, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder went scoreless in 12 minutes off the bench in the Blue Devils' 65-64 loss in overtime to No. 11 Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.



Beasley said he would take Smith along with him when he shoots hoops on Christmas Day. It could be like old times as the talents spar on the playground and rehash old stories. They'll have much to share about their months apart. And during the course of it all, like inspired talents with the world in front of them tend to do, they'll probably talk about their dreams.



"Christmas Day, I'll be planted in front of a TV set doing nothing, I'll tell you that much," Martin said. "In sunny south Florida, by the way."



Yes, there's only one Michael Beasley.



And this year for K-State fans, perhaps that's the greatest gift of all.



...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!